úterý 31. ledna 2012

Jeanette Winterson: The Passion (Vášeň)

   We read this book for our reading club where it did not meet with a huge success… but I think the book wasn’t entirely to blame. Anyway, I admit the book has some flaws.
   The story takes place during Napoleonic wars and has two main heroes. The first one is Henri, a young boy who has no experience with the world but gets into the army and becomes Napoleon’s personal cook. And he falls for Napoleon. Not in romantic way but he idolizes him and admires him. Henri thinks about his home village a lot, he is quite homesick and seems really taken aback by all that is happening around him. But in Napoleon he trusts and in everything he says so it keeps his world together. Main themes of his thought seem to be home, what it means for him and how his understanding of it changed dramatically (from “the boring place where I am going to spend the rest of my life” to “the dreamy place where nothing ever happens”) and the catastrophe of Napoleon’s attacking England which ended up in death of thousands of soldiers. He is very innocent and sentimental and rather feminine (which is the point of the book, anyway).
   The second hero is actually a heroine called Villanelle. She was born into a Venetian boatman family and her feet are webbed. Which is quite surprising because she is the first woman to have such feet. Which makes it quite difficult to overlook that Henri is rather a woman and Villanelle rather a man. Anyway, she works in a casino where she comes dressed as a boy. People fall in love with her, regardless if they are a man or a woman (women see her as a boy and men as…a very girlish boy). She is a redhead, she is beautiful, simply greater than life. Her (slightly overused) motto is “You play. You win. You play. You lose. You play.” And boy, she plays.
   Later, she falls in love with an elegant woman who comes into the casino and they spend some time together. The relationship somehow goes wrong, I can’t really remember how, but Villanelle leaves her lover. And she finds out she has lost her heart. Not in a symbolic way (well…depends on how you look at it) but she literally puts her hand on her chest and feels nothing.
   She then becomes a prostitute (unwillingly) and joins the French army on their way to conquer Russia. She meets Henri who found out that Napoleon may actually be kind of nuts and they decide to leave together and go back to Venice. I won’t go into more details but Henri falls for Villanelle, changing one unattainable idol for another (meh, chicks).
   I think the book has some very good ideas and is beautifully written. Winterson’s language is very poetic which can discourage some people from reading it. I don’t enjoy such book myself as I tend to lose attention and start thinking about something different and then I have to go back in the text and read it again. But I liked some parts of this book very much. What was really getting on my nerves were some sentences that the characters kept repeating. Not just the you-play line mentioned above, but also “I am telling you stories. Trust me.” Why, why did they have to say it like every ten pages? Interestingly, both characters used some of these lines, which kind of merged them together and made them almost one person (at least, it makes you consider position of the narrator).
   I think Winterson is an author worth trying. You may find out she’s not your taste but you can also fall for her forever. I wasn’t extremely amazed but I liked the book and I’d like to try another piece of her work (probably Oranges Are not the Only Fruit) but it will take some time before I get to it.

I didn’t know what hate felt like, not the hate that comes after love. It’s huge and desperate and it longs to be proved wrong. And every day it’s proved right it grows a little more monstrous. If the love was passion, the hate will be obsession. A need to see the once-loved weak and cowed and beneath pity. Disgust is close and dignity is far away. The hate is not only for the once-loved, it’s for yourself too; how could you ever have loved this?

pondělí 16. ledna 2012

Iain Banks: The Crow Road (Vraní ulice)

   I chose this book mostly because it usually ranks quite well (and for some time probably will) in lists of the best opening lines of novels. It’s quite easy to believe considering the first sentence is: It was the day my grandmother exploded. Also, Awaris seems to adore this author which is usually a good sign (if you want to read her review, I warn you it reveals more or less all major points of the story).
   The story begins with death (quite obviously) and death tends to stick on all protagonists for the whole book. Two main narrators are Prentice and his father Kenneth but there are more. There are also few bits of Prentice’s uncle Rory’s stories. It’s kind of a family chronicles of the McHoans, the Urvilles and the Watts. Relations between tha characters are quite complicated but on the other hand, I like making family trees when reading a book (I have a sheet with War and Peace characters somewhere…at least from the part I read. And of the Buendías family from One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was few years later I found out that you are actually supposed to confuse the characters…whatever).
   In the beginning of the story, Prentice and Kenneth don’t speak to each other after having argued about religion – Kenneth being a devout atheist and Prentice having some feelings that this whole world is kind of unjust and that there must be some hidden logic in it, something bigger that knows things are just as they should be and that all of this happens for a good reason. Considering Prentice’s uncle Rory has been missing for some ten years by that time and one of his best friends has just died in a pretty awful accident, it is quite understandable. As you might have guessed, one of the points of the book is that Prentice and his father are basically the same (stubborn assholes…at least sometimes).
   Another plot line is Prentice’s research on what happened to his missing uncle Rory who left one day and no one has ever seen him again. Rory was a traveller, he wrote some books about his travels to India and other parts of the world but always felt as a failure. Even more when Kenneth published book of stories he used to tell to his children and kids from the neighbourhood. This book affected Prentice too because he feels that his father’s stories were a private thing and that he spoiled it somehow. Which only shows that Prentice is in awkward teenage self-centred phase (On the other hand, I get him. My father once wrote in an article that my sister and me are crazy about Pokémons and we speak about nothing else and play with the cards all the time. Which a) was not true, we watched it sometimes but weren’t crazy about it and b) we were actually forbidden to collect the damn cards. Anyway…how dared he?).
    Prentice is pretty cool character, really cynical and funny, but sometimes rather full of himself and sometimes plainly obnoxious. Well, that’s how people are, I guess. Structure of the book is quite complicated as the narration shifts not only between the two major characters but also jumps into different moments in past. Quite often different parts of the story are somehow connected, for example the character thinks about some old story or mentions some fact and the following part comes back to it and gives some more insight. There is almost unsupportable number of characters and it takes time to remember who is who. The book is also full of suspension, sometimes it takes rather long before you are really sure who is the narrator in the moment or when the event being that is being described took place; sometimes you get some information but must wait pages and pages before it gets properly explained. You should be also prepared for a huge load of sarcasm, cynicism and black humour.
   If there is something I kind of didn’t like, it was the beginning and the ending. Or at least that the book starts with a funeral and ends with some weird kind of atheist baptism. Was that really necessary? Well…it probably was considering the constant presence of death, what better ending could there be? But still, it’s the kind of symbolism I could live without.
    In all other (numerous) aspects, I think it is an amazing book. It’s funny and dark in the same time, the storytelling is amazing and it makes you…yes, I going to say that…it makes you think.
   Oh, and the name of the book is from the Scottish saying to be away the crow road which means to die. And there is also a street called the Crow Road in the book.

středa 11. ledna 2012

A - Z Challenge 2012

Well, it didn't go very well last year with the A-Z Challenge but considering I started some time in July,  think I did pretty well (15 out of 26 letters). This year, I will try to fill the whole alphabet and I will use names of the books again (the first letter of the original name, not counting an article). No one hosts the challenge right now but I will add a link when someone does.

B - The Bridge (Iain Banks)
C - The Crow Road (Iain Banks)
G - The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
H - The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
M - Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
P - The Passion (Jeanette Winterson)

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2012

After the complete fail of 42 Sci-Fi challenge and A-Z Chellenge last year, I chose a rather easier one - Eclectic Reader Challenge 2012. You can read the exact rules here.


Literary Fiction: The Crow Road (Iain Banks)
Crime/Mystery Fiction: The Bridge (Iain Banks)
Romantic Fiction: The Great Gatby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Historical Fiction
Young Adult - The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Science Fiction
Non Fiction
Thriller /Suspense
Your favourite genre

sobota 7. ledna 2012

Thomas De Quincey: Confessions of an English Opium Eater (Zpověď anglického poživače opia)

   Tahle knížka byla svým způsobem trochu zklamání, nicméně i tak se mi celkem líbila. Dostali jsme ji k přečtení ve čtenářským klubu a jak se ukázalo, ani ten, kdo ji navrhl, úplně nečekal, co na něj čeká.
   Knížka začíná slovem ke čtenáři, kde De Quincey vysvětluje, proč knihu napsal – chce uvést na pravou míru scestný představy o opiu a jeho uživatelích a ukázat čtenáři, co jeho osobně vedlo k užívání a přeužívání opia.
   Potom přichází autobiografická část, kterou dělí na jakýsi úvod, The Pleasures of Opium, Introduction to the Pains of Opium a The Pains of Opium. Úplně si nepamatuju, co je kde, ale v první části popisuje, jak chodil na školu, odkud utekl, flákal se po Walesu a pak se přesunul do Londýna, kde stěží přežíval. Tahle část je poměrně otravná, ale dá se ustát. Později vyšla upravená verze knížky, ve které rozšířil hlavně tuhle část (možná jenom tuhle část) a přidal jména známých osobností, která jsou v původním textu skrytá a je tam jen první písmeno (třeba Wordsworth a Coleridge). U někoho teda nechal jen písmeno, protože zapomněl, kdo to vlastně byl… Rozšířením týhle části udělal z knihy zřejmě už téměř nesnesitelný čtení, jak se dá dočíst v předmluvě k jednomu vydání:

De Quincey undoubtedly spoiled his masterpiece by revising it...anyone who compares the two will prefer the unflagging vigour and tension of the original version to the tired prosiness of much of the revised one.

   V pozdější verzi tahle část zabírá snad přes dvě třetiny celkového textu. V The Pleasures of Opium popisuje příjemné stavy vyvolané opiem a snaží se vyvrátit některé mylné představy o opiu. Je to relativně rozsáhlá část a De Quincey si vysloužilk kritiku za to, že moc zdůrazňoval Pleasures a málo Pains. Musím říct, že i mě zaskočilo, jak málo se zaobírá negativními vlivy opia, protože když už to má takovou docela halucinogenní obálku a všude se tvrdí, jak je to imaginative a podobný věci, tak bych to čekal i v tom textu. Bohužel, tyhle záležitosti se odbudou dost rychle. Hlavně po všech Mementech a My děti ze stanice ZOO je člověk zvyklý na něco jinýho. Nicméně jednak od knížky ze roku 1821 člověk nemůže čekat zázraky, jednak De Quincey byl obecně celkem mimo, celý život v neskutečných dluzích a psal vlastně jen když fakt ale úplně děsně musel, aby aspoň něco vydělal.
    Celá knížka působí dost roztříštěným dojmem, kromě první části. Mám docela podezření, že sám autor měl dost bordel v tom, kdy se co stalo a jestli se to vůbec kdy stalo. Docela zábavný je, když člověk porovná text knížky a jeho opravdivou autobiografií a zjistí, že dost věcí vyloženě zametl pod stůl. Například že ho čirou náhodou někdo našel na ulici během jeho živoření v Londýně a dostal ho zpátky na školu, kterou protentokrát málem dokončil. Nebo když se někdy v poslední části zmíní o tom, že se probudil z opiového rauše a nad ním stály jeho dvě děti. Děti? Kde se tam sakra vzaly…
   Na druhou stranu z relativní nudy občas vyleze vážně zábavná část a De Quincey si umí docela vtipně pohrát s jazykem. S tím souvisí jedno z úskalí knížky, totiž že často bu%d přímo cituje jiná díla nebo je alespoň parafrázuje. U citací je to aspoň poznat (i když citace v řečtině člověku moc nepomůže), u parafrází byste museli mít načtenou anglickou literaturu od 18. století zpátky a značnou část klasický literatury, abyste to poznali. Právě antičtí Řekové a Římané jsou autorův oblíbený zdroj, takže pro dnešního čtenáře prakticky bez šance poznat. A třeba část z Releighovy autobiografie předpokládám taky.
    Je to ale určitě zajímavá knížka, hlavně když se vezme v potaz, kdy vyšla. Nicméně určitě doporučuju sehnat si původní verzi, když už (do češtiny byly přeložené obě a v Levných knihách – obal na obrázku v úvodu příspěvku –  vyšla anglicky ta původní).